Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Wednesday, August 30, 2021

Dude. Forest Whitaker is playing Ugandan dictator/cannibal Idi Amin in upcoming flick The Last King of Scotland?

I can’t think of a more inspired, dead-on casting choice. Brilliant.

And what’s with that title, considering it’s about an African despot? According to Amin’s 2003 obituary:

He praised Hitler and said the German dictator “was right to burn six million Jews.” He bizarrely offered to be king of Scotland if asked.

Good thing no one asked.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/30/2006 11:36:07 PM
Category: History, Movies
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Sunday, August 20, 2021

Twenty years ago today, mail carrier Patrick Henry Sherrill killed 14 people and himself in an Edmond, Oklahoma post office, an event that sparked a handful of copycat incidents and gave rise to the term and perception “going postal”.

The media spotlight exaggerated the emphasis on postal workers being particularly susceptible to work-induced hysteria:

In 1998, the Postal Service created an independent commission to assess workplace violence and make postal facilities safe and secure.

The commission found that postal workers were no more likely to resort to workplace violence than workers in other jobs. It found 0.26 workplace homicides per 100,000 postal workers from 1992 to 1998. By comparison the rate was 2.10 per 100,000 for retail workers, 1.66 in public administration, 1.32 for transportation and 0.50 for private delivery services.

“Violence is purely unpredictable. It is a part of our society,” [USPS official Larry] Flener said. “Terms ‘going postal’ and those things have taken on a life that is totally unfair.”

But does that term “going postal” still resonate? It’s been over a decade since the last mailman massacre of note grabbed the national headlines; the public perception of Postal Service employees being dangerously high-strung probably has passed. (I might throw in something here about how email has lessened the crush of work that may have unnerved Post Office employees; but I believe the latest numbers will show the flow of letters and parcels to be higher than ever, so that theory goes out the window.)

I ask because, coincidentally, this term came up for me a few weeks ago. I dropped it on a woman who’s around my age; she gave me a blank look, and I had to explain it to her. The caveat is that she admitted she’s been pretty current events-ignorant since she was a kid. Still, it occurred to me then that the phrase “going postal” might indeed have outlived its relevancy.

Any opinions on this? Do you hear “going postal” much these days?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/20/2006 09:31:58 PM
Category: History, Society, Wordsmithing
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Monday, August 14, 2021

According to “Real Fact” #143, inside my lunchtime Snapple bottlecap:

“Q” is the only letter in the alphabet not appearing in the name of any U.S. state.

If only that consideration had been factored in, I’m sure the aborted State of Sequoyah would have been allowed into the Union in 1905, rather than being lumped in with Oklahoma for admission in 1907. Maybe if the South had won

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/14/2006 02:30:09 PM
Category: History
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Sunday, August 13, 2021

Is the ouster of Joe Lieberman just a spasm of voter disgust over incumbent smugness and the Iraq War? Or is it the start of a broader repudiation of centrist politics in the Democratic Party?

The strategies being employed by liberal activists today echo the long-ago rejuvenation of conservativism in the GOP.

More tellingly, the campaign offers an intriguing twist in the history of insurgency that has shaped the identities of both parties over the last several decades. Some commentators have portrayed the bloggers who led the charge against Senator Lieberman as the ideological descendants of the left-wing Democrats who nearly brought the party to its knees in the 1960’s and 70’s. But in strategic terms they resemble more closely the “movement conservatives” who transformed the Republican Party from 1955 to 1980, when it rose to dominate American politics.

Like the current Democratic insurgency, the conservative movement was driven by activists who combined journalism with partisanship. Just as today’s insurgents often post their analyses and self-described “rants” on Web sites like Daily Kos, so the conservative rebels of an earlier day poured forth their opinions in the National Review, the biweekly magazine founded in 1955 by the 29-year-old William F. Buckley Jr.

So today’s fringe blogs are going to evolve into tomorrow’s cognoscenti journals? Better back up those archives now.

Assuming there’s a concerted effort here to apply the Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan purification campaign to the other end of the American political spectrum… It’s a fascinating display of pragmatic political maneuvering.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/13/2006 11:45:03 PM
Category: History, Political
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Monday, July 24, 2021

Today’s announcement of HCA’s $33-billion leveraged buyout by a consortium of private-equity financiers and the Frist family is making news because of the record-setting pricetag ($21.3 billion in share buyback, plus the assumption of $11.7 billion in debt).

It ought to also set a record for the longest gestation period in dealmaking history. Dr. Thomas Frist, CEO of then-Columbia/HCA, was fishing in LBO waters all the way back in 1997, at the start of the company’s troubles:

“I’d love to do an LBO (leveraged buyout),” Dr. Thomas Frist, Columbia’s chief executive, told a group of New York analysts two weeks ago, according to some in attendance. “But I don’t think I can right now.”

So about nine years from strategizing to realization. I guess it does take a while to pile up all that dough.

This caps off an intriguing rise-and-fall for this consolidation play in the healthcare industry. At the crest of its high tide, HCA dreamt of dominating the emergency room like no other administrator ever had. At one point in the mid-’90s, I recall reading an interview with one of the company’s bigshots (possibly the chief exec), wherein it was proposed that someday, HCA would become synonymous with healthcare — that when people needed medical attention, they’d offhandedly say they were “going to HCA” instead of “going to the hospital”. Obviously, it didn’t quite work out that way.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 07/24/2006 09:38:22 PM
Category: Business, History
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Tuesday, July 04, 2021

Nearly half of Queens’ 2.2 million residents are foreign-born. So that means celebrations for a whole lot of independence days:

On March 25, Astoria was aflutter with blue and white flags, commemorating the 185th anniversary of the beginning of the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire. The next day, Bangladeshi immigrants from Woodside to Bayside marked Bangladesh’s secession from Pakistan. And on May 5, Mexicans across the borough loudly celebrated a national holiday that has come to eclipse the country’s actual Independence Day of Sept. 16.

Then there are May 26 (Guyana), Aug. 6 (Bolivia and Jamaica), Aug. 24 (Ukraine) and Sept. 1 (Uzbekistan), to name a few, all observed with that bittersweet mix of homesickness and pride that is the lot of even the most enthusiastic new American.

Now, lest the uber-patriots get riled up from seeing this as another sign of immigrant disassocation from the American experience:

But July 4 is different. It is a day that looks forward, not back. The aroma of hamburgers hissing on a grill awakens no Old World memory, the swells of “America the Beautiful” no tinge of the past, just a fresh start. And, in an era of cellphones and satellite television that strengthen links to native countries, many say they welcome the day as one when they can exchange their more complex identities borne from straddling two cultures, for just one.

So, the best of both worlds. You have your heritage and celebrate it whenever you can, to accentuate your individuality. But the Fourth of July serves as an overarching unifier.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 07/04/2021 01:53:21 PM
Category: History, New Yorkin'
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Sunday, July 02, 2021

I’m heading into the office tomorrow. This, even though most Americans probably won’t, as they’ll opt for the four-day weekend created by the 4th of July landing on a Tuesday this year. It’s all the more awkward for me, in that I will be staying home on the actual holiday day.

No complaints from me. I have the option of taking Monday off, but I’m busy enough that I’d rather put in the hours.

Still, things would be so much more streamlined this year if today, July 2nd, were actually celebrated as Independence Day. That’s the way it actually is, and the way Founding Father John Adams predicted it would be. But no. Due to a completion technicality in the signing of the Declaration of Independence by all applicable parties, the Fourth held forth.

If you dig deep enough into history, you’ll find more than a few never-was days that had a large bearing on the future course of America.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/02/2021 03:40:43 PM
Category: History
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Thursday, June 29, 2021

disco art
July marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Nik Cohn’s “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” in New York Magazine. The article, which served as the direct source material for Saturday Night Fever, was presented as a non-fictional frontline report on what was going down with New York clublife in 1976. The rest is Tony Manero/white-suit-dancin’ history.

Funny how such an era-defining cultural artifact was based on fabrications on Cohn’s part:

…a combination of New Journalism extrapolating and deadline-pressure riffing. “At the time,” Cohn later wrote, “if cornered, I would doubtless have produced some high-flown waffle about Alternative Realities, tried to argue that writing didn’t have to be true to be, at some level, real. But, of course, I would have been full of it.”

But hey, weren’t large chunks of that decade, essentially and conceptually, made-up anyway? Like they say: If you can actually remember the Seventies, then you weren’t really there.

James McMullan was really there, though. He accompanied Cohn on some field research, and remembered enough to come back with photos, sketches, and paintings of the club scenes in those Brooklyn discos (detail from one featured above). He also caught the underlying mood, relaying the reality that Cohn couldn’t/wouldn’t:

What [McMullan] saw was a world not of disco glitter but of melancholy yearning. The real [Bay Ridge disco 2001 Odyssey] “was like a tired old supper club,” he says, “that had quickly, but not entirely, been converted to a dance club.” (In the paintings, much of the club’s floor is covered by a dingy, rec-room-style carpet, so vividly captured you can practically smell it.) He used a flash for the photos, and “the flash revealed all this stuff that in the dim light you weren’t able to see. Particularly in the backgrounds. You saw people’s non-party faces, as it were.”

The paintings now stand as a kind of unofficial storyboard for the film: the real film, the gritty, vaguely hopeless one, not the smoke–and–Bee Gees cartoon that persists in memory.

The dance floor never looked more somber in literal portrayal. Which, in a way, makes the sunnier nostalgic memories somewhat inevitable.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 06/29/2006 11:32:08 PM
Category: History, Movies, Pop Culture, Publishing
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Wednesday, June 28, 2021

non-existenceI’ve always contemplated the nature of my existence. Now, thanks to this recent “Get Fuzzy” installment, I can stop. Bucky Katt calls it: “Greeks don’t exist”.

On a related note, I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished that those slippers with the puffy balls, and matching skirt-kilts, didn’t exist, too. But that’s Hellenic democracy for you…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/28/2006 10:50:27 PM
Category: Comedy, History
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Wednesday, June 21, 2021

We’ve all heard about Thomas R. Robinson, the University of Miami associate professor of accounting who, improbably, was discovered to be a descendant of Genghis Khan.

Now for the biological buzzkill: Upon further review, Robinson turns out to not have the same Y-chromosome as the Mongolian marauder.

I assume the big Mongolian barbecue blowout in Coral Gables has been cancelled…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/21/2006 11:01:57 PM
Category: Florida Livin', History, Science
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I just found out from my mom that one of my cousins in Greece has named her little girl Nepheli.

A great choice. Not only because it’s the name of a godling nymph from Greek mythology, but also because it boldly breaks the centuries-old pattern of naming every single female family member Maria, Sophia, Adrianna or some slight variation thereof. “Centuries-old” is a minor exaggeration, too; everyone’s got to honor the grandparents with the new kid, and so every generation of siblings and cousins have pretty much the same collection of names.

So it’s nice to see a new nametag in the gene pool. I wish more of my cousins on this side of the pond had followed suit.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/21/2006 10:32:42 PM
Category: History, Wordsmithing
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Thursday, June 08, 2021

Hey, it’s none of my business if Brad and Angelina want to name their newborn girl Shiloh. And it is a pretty-sounding name.

But personally, when I hear “Shiloh”, the first thing that comes to mind is not “peace”, as translated from the original Hebrew. It’s the Battle of Shiloh, the 1862 conflict that was one of the bloodiest engagements of the American Civil War.

I suppose that, despite my interest in the Civil War, my mindset will eventually change. I’m sure little Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt will grow up in full light of the media glare, displacing other conceptions of the name. Oh base celebrity, how you brainwash us!

I would’ve posted a picture of the new arrival here. But I don’t need to get sued, like some other blogs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 06/08/2021 11:46:30 PM
Category: Celebrity, History, Media
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Tuesday, June 06, 2021

You already knew it was coming, and now it’s here: June 6th, 2006, the heebie-jeebiest day for the next century or so.

Like last time, I tried to set an appropriately ominous timestamp. Since it’s not possible to show the time of day as the 66th minute of the 6th hour, I got as close as I could. Hope you appreciate it.

Still skeptical, hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia scoffers? Well, laugh off this list of marketing-spawned product launches and promotions, specifically targeted for this most Devilish Tuesday.

A sampling, just to put the stink of fear on you:

Ann Coulter’s new book!

Oddly, no surer sign of this whole six-appeal notion than that book launch…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 06/06/2021 07:06:03 AM
Category: Advert./Mktg., History, Society
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Friday, June 02, 2021

In a pre-mortem on New York State’s Republican Party and its expected poor showing this November, GOP strategist Nelson Warfield contributed this insightful assessment:

“In the last dozen years, the [New York] Republican Party has largely become all about Pataki. The governor never focused on trying to establish a farm team within the party, and now, as his era ends, it is apparent that the party has not prospered under him.”

Interesting, because that’s a similar summation of what sort of shape the national Democratic Party was left in after Bill Clinton’s presidency:

The Clintons’ Democratic Party was great for the Clintons but disastrous for the Democratic Party: during the 1990s, they lost the House and the Senate and a ton of governorships and state legislatures, and eventually, with nothing else left to lose, they lost the presidency. Clinton’s heat left the party so parched for talent they had no successful governors to run for president and were forced to turn to a stiff hack weathervane senator in the hope they could so damage Bush they could drag their boy across the finishing line.

Extending the comparison further, both Pataki and Clinton got to their chief executive posts by persuading an otherwise incompatible electorate. New York State leans Democratic by a 5-to-3 margin, and the country as a whole runs more conservative to the point where only disaffection in that base presents openings for more centrist/left candidates. Thus the perpetual operating mantra for the NYS Republicans is to never appear to be as conservative as the national party, which is perceived to be the only hope of succeeding in a statewide race. Same dynamic, with reversed ideology, on the national level for Democrats.

So it was that both men had to build their political capital by simultaneously running under their party label while pulling away from its rank-and-file. That left personal success for a seeming standard-bearer at the top, but an ineffective shell of a party apparatus below.

On the darker side, this suggests the need to create something of a cult of personality to achieve ends. The primacy of the individual candidate over the old-style party machine has been fact for half a century, but do Pataki’s and Clinton’s examples highlight an uncomfortable outgrowth of that trend?

That both a Democrat and a Republican pulled the same trick suggests this mechanism has more to do with American political culture, than with a particular party’s orientation. Fascinating mechanics.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 06/02/2021 05:30:03 PM
Category: History, New Yorkin', Politics
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Thursday, June 01, 2021

Are you already feeling an indefinable dread over the coming of… THIS TUESDAY??

Sorry to be so dramatic. But it’s not every year that the date June 6th, 2006 — in its more jitter-inducing form, 06/06/06 — comes around. Many a pseudo-religious nut is hand-wringing over the Devilish numerology of the upcoming calendar square. And of course, those crypto-Satanists in Hollywood contribute, seizing upon the golden opportunity to release the remake of The Omen on the day of sixes (hoping that mitigates an unusual Tuesday movie premiere).

I hate to ruin a quality Christian freakout, but I’m impelled to point out: Archaelogical evidence indicates that the true mark of the Beast is actually “616″, instead of the popular “666″. A misdialed number, in a sense.

So all you spiritual number-crunchers should really be worried about today, 06/01/06. You should ignore those extra zeros, of course. Or else, gear up for the coming Friday that will have 06/16 tagged onto it. At the very least, have your blood chill at the timestamp for this post!

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 06/01/2021 06:16:53 AM
Category: Advert./Mktg., History, Society
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Tuesday, May 30, 2021

Who do we have to thank for our modern-day urban and transport-infrastructure landscape? According to Clinton-era National Parks Service director Roger G. Kennedy, in his new book “Wildfire and Americans : How to Save Lives, Property, and Your Tax Dollars”, the American land-use template has a couple of unlikely forefathers:

Mr. Kennedy attributes postwar patterns of American development to two of the 20th century’s most notorious top-down thinkers: Hitler and Stalin. Among other things, he writes, Hitler taught Eisenhower the usefulness of autobahns for the quick movement of troops and materiel, and the difficulty of destroying industrial infrastructure if it is well dispersed. And after Stalin got the bomb, Mr. Kennedy goes on, American leaders concluded that the nation would survive thermonuclear war only if its population moved out of the cities and scattered.

A result, as Mr. Kennedy and others have argued, was federal mortgage incentives, insurance programs and other initiatives that dispersed people into unsettled areas. The biggest incentive of all was the creation of the interstate highway system, built, officials said at the time, not to enhance commuting to the exurbs but for the nation’s defense.

The desire to afford as little of a fixed, concentrated target for enemy attacks as possible got renewed vitality with the War on Terror; technological developments (particularly telecom, i.e. Internet and phone options) made further dispersion of people and resources possible. It’s interesting that, as much as the trend is assumed to be the result of individualist desires, it’s driven by monolithic momentum set in motion half a century ago.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/30/2006 09:05:39 PM
Category: History, Political, Society
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Monday, May 29, 2021

Hoping to appease independence agitators, U.S. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka is proposing controversial Congressional legislation that would grant self-government to native Hawaiians. The plan would set aside an undetermined amount of public land in the islands and place it under native control.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Casinos in Oahu, anyone?

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/29/2006 08:30:13 PM
Category: History, Political, Society
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Sunday, May 28, 2021

Author Ed Morales, proudly displaying his Nuyorican roots, submits a most eloquent reflection on New York’s historical role in the Western Hemispheric island chain — economically and culturally:

As is the case in the Caribbean, New York repeats itself in slightly different versions on each island, each borough. Its rivers make strangers of Bronxites and Brooklynites. It is diverse almost beyond comprehension. Its architectural face changes daily. Its symbols unite all faiths and political points of view, albeit sometimes in a messy way.

New York is also a place whose hybrid culture is constantly being changed by the tides of humanity that flow through it, from borough to borough, even neighborhood to neighborhood. And the islands of the Caribbean have always played a critical role in that process.

New York’s Caribbean roots go back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch trading empire. Peter Stuyvesant, the famous last mayor of the Dutch colony, came to the job after serving as the commander of Dutch political and military operations in the Caribbean, based in Curaçao.

And in “The Island at the Center of the World,” Russell Shorto reminds us, “Manhattan began its rise as an international port not in the 18th century, as the Port of New York, but in the 1630’s, as a cog in the circle of trade moving from the Netherlands to western Africa to Brazil and the Caribbean, then to New Amsterdam, and so back to Europe.”

That Caribbean influence withered, as the English ousted the Dutch and the Americans threw out the English, followed by the great European immigrations of the 19th century. But after the Spanish-American war of 1898, which made the United States the dominant power in the Caribbean, an influx of immigrants — from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico — rekindled New York’s island spirit.

I am convinced that when my forebears came to this city, they felt that spirit lurking. Maybe not while shivering atop tenement rooftops while sticking out their tongues to catch their first mysterious snowflake. Maybe not the first time they heard the el rumbling over their heads and thought that the sky was falling.

But I do know how comfortable they must have felt when the tide was running and the wind flew in from the sea and the tang of salt flooded the air. I know because that is how I feel.

Through geography, politics, and socioeconomic fluctuations, New York was destined from the start to be anything but homogenous.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/28/2006 11:38:40 PM
Category: History, New Yorkin', Society
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Wednesday, May 24, 2021

eat me
The late Graham Chapman was said to be enamoured of situations where bad taste held sway. (Fellow Python John Cleese said that, by way of explaining why he recited a monologue version of the “Dead Parrot” sketch at Chapman’s funeral.)

If so, then Chapman would be having a ball in Milford, Michigan, where a recent and much-publicized FBI investigation for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa spurred a cottage industry of trinkets poking fun at the prospect of the dead Teamster as the town’s claim to fame.

Those cupcakes pictured above say it all. The ghoulish green candy (or plastic?) hand, emerging from the dirt-colored chocolate frosting. Classic. Beats any tshirt.

Too bad that it’s looking like Hoffa isn’t in town. A reporter I knew long ago in St. Petersburg, who hailed from Buffalo, once told me that he had had it on some authority that, while he couldn’t say just where Hoffa’s final resting place was, that it definitely wasn’t under Giants Stadium, contrary to popular notion/humor. The search goes on — as does the merchandising.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/24/2006 10:39:55 PM
Category: Food, History, Society
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Monday, May 15, 2021

A little-remembered phase of Mark Twain’s life is his four months on assignment for the Sacramento Union newspaper in the Sandwich Islands, dispatches from which were later collected in “Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii”.

I like the idea of America’s greatest writer looking for the perfect wave:

You heard right, Huck: America’s greatest writer took a wooden surfboard and paddled out to wait, as he had seen naked locals do, “for a particularly prodigious billow to come along,” upon which billow he prodigiously wiped out.

“None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly,” he wrote.

Is it good or bad that he never incorporated the experience into “Huckleberry Finn”? Picture Huck and Jim surfing down the Mississippi…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/15/2006 11:27:23 PM
Category: History, Publishing
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Sunday, May 14, 2021

it's a sign!
No, I haven’t opened up a bottling company — nor a greasy spoon diner.

If you lived in the Northeast from the 1950s through the ’80s, you probably came across a regional variety of brews called Costa Sodas, with that simple but distinctive logo. Costa Beverages was based in Newburgh, NY, and kept chugging for decades until shutting down in 1988.

Growing up in Newburgh in the ’70s and ’80s, my parents would often stock up on the Costa bottles of sugarwater. Naturally, I’d get a slight thrill out of going down into the basement and seeing a couple of rows of glass bottles, all festooned with my first name. (It’s not like I’d come across it in too many other commercial products or media.)

I snapped the above picture this morning, in Newburgh on Washington Street. How is it that a 20- or 30-year-old storefront sign is still in view? This sign is located in Newburgh’s ‘hood, where there are plenty of dilapidated buildings and run-down neighborhoods. Fact is, my old hometown, located fifty miles north of Manhattan, has been in a decades-long decline. While there are some nice areas, the inner city has prompted unfavorable comparisons to the South Bronx and other blighted areas. So it’s no surprise that a long-vacant building serves as an artifact to a company that’s been out of business for years.

While I’m not thrilled about seeing the town never-endingly mired, I’m glad I caught sight of this minor piece of nostalgia.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/14/2006 01:29:48 PM
Category: Food, History, New Yorkin'
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